San Salvador, like most large cities in Central America, is crowded, hectic, and hot. The temperature stays in the mid to upper 80s, but the humidity makes it feel like the Midwest in August. But it is also colorful, interesting, and filled with delicious food. I spent my first night eating hot papusas con queso y lorocco (lorocco is a flower that is mixed with eggs, cheese, or in this case stuffed in a papusa) and visiting with my hosts: Professor Carlos Mauricio and his friend Lidia. Both are long time social activists, educators, and torture victims, and both are still seriously committed to their cause(s). Lidia is retired from 30-plus years of teaching and working with the various education-oriented unions, and Carlos lives part of the year in Washington, D.C. running his non-profit Alto Impunidad (The Stop Impunity Project) and lives the other part of the year in El Salvador teaching and making connections between various groups in an effort to promote peace and social/economic well being for the people of his country and the world. Both Carlos and Lidia are fiery, passionate individuals who are quick to argue but just as quick to make a joke, and I am very happy to have them showing me around.
My first full day in San Salvador included a brief meeting with the Chancellor of a private and very conservative university, a visit to the national library to meet with the director, and an introduction to the director of Pro Busqueda, the NGO I will intern with later in the summer. After hours of driving around town and making various other stops, we ended up buying a newspaper and going to a favorite local bar for beer and bocas, basically Salvadoran style Budweiser and small bites of seafood, tacos, and/or quesadillas. Living in Oregon has spoiled me in terms of beer selection and quality, but you can´t beat the prices down here.
I originally rented a room in the house of Jorge Argueta, a Salvadoran poet who lives in San Francisco during the rainy season. It is very comfortable, clean, and from what I understand in a very safe neighborhood (San Jacinto), but due to a combination of recent storms and (presumably) poor maintenance the water in the neighborhood is broken; the water only runs from 4-7am and is very cold. The cold doesn’t bother me at all, but I do like to shower. Thus today we moved to a hotel until the water can be fixed. But that is just a small bump in the road in terms of possible traveling problems, and at this point things are going very well. I have attempted to explore the city on my own for the last few days, but as with most Latin American cities at times I have trouble knowing where I am and distinguishing the safe from the unsafe. You can’t judge the safety of a neighborhood by looking at the razor wire, graffiti, or people walking around with large guns – that is everywhere. While I know I am safe where I have been living, from what I have been told San Jacinto buts up against a gang controlled area that I do not want to be in regardless of the time of day. The best way that I get to know cities is by walking, talking, and eating, but I do not quite have my bearings yet and 4 or 5 blocks in the wrong direction could be bad. Or so I am told. And the hotel I will be at for right now is in a different part of town (close to the main University where I will be working for the first month) but I assume it also has the same safety concerns.
Saturday was Father’s Day here, and I went to Carlos´ daughters house to have lunch with about 10 extended family members. After that we met with his ex-sister in law, who is from a very conservative, military family and holds completely opposite political and ideological views from the people who I have spent most of my time with so far. But while Carlos and his friends are openly leftist and support the current FMLN government, he is adamant about meeting with those of various viewpoints as long as the common goal is to promote peace and eradicate torture and impunity in the country. During the next few weeks, I will be meeting with ex-guerilla commanders, union leaders, and educators from the left but also with conservative religious, academic, and business leaders. Additionally, the Vice President of El Salvador, Salvador Sánchez Cerén is meeting with us some time in the next two weeks to discuss what the current administration is doing in regards to eradicating torture, reducing impunity and corruption, and working towards legal reform.
So far the people I have spent time with, as well as those on the streets, have been very friendly, interesting, and open; the fruit is everywhere and the street food is delicious It feels good to be an outsider again. Living in a place like Eugene, where it is pretty hard to really stick out, I believe that it is good for me to be the blond bearded guy getting the awkward stares, getting whistled at, and hearing insults hurled at me from passing cars (or things in Spanish that I do not yet recognize but have to assume are insults). Many people feel like the outsider every day of their life, and I think it is good for all of us to step outside our box from time to time and see what it is like to be the odd one out.